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A Celebration of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s Rejection of ‘Natural’

Until approximately five minutes ago — that is, until she died yesterday, at 99 — I had not realized Zsa Zsa Gabor came from a Jewish family. (Was of Jewish origin, I’m tempted to say, because that’s how it would be said in French, and a Continental flair seems apropos.) As Benjamin Ivry points out, this is no coincidence: Gabor wasn’t particularly ‘out’, as Jews go. It’s also worth noting, the ‘Jews and whiteness’ topic being very of the moment, that Gabor was an icon of a certain sort of blonde, small-nosed beauty that… yes, exists among Jewish women, but in Gabor’s case appears to have been the result of artifice.

In the Guardian, Suzanne Moore writes, of Gabor, “Like many women of her generation she understood that femininity is always a performance, and she performed it to the hilt.” People like Gabor, who unabashedly reject the pretense of authenticity, serve as reminders that it’s all a performance. (In an era with readily accessible and inexpensive cosmetics, the natural look, too, is a choice.)

And the right to perform a chosen identity should (with rare exceptions) be celebrated. Anti-Semitism, remember, isn’t a mere religious hatred, penalizing Jewish believers but sparing non-believers or converts out. It’s about restricting Jewish possibility, very much including the possibility for someone of Jewish origin to, well, pass. Anti-Semitism destroys Jewish spaces and prevents Jews from coming and going freely from such spaces. I suppose what I’m saying is, where Jewishness is concerned, Zsa Zsa Gabor’s “performance” needs to be understood both as a result of an anti-Semitic society, and as a pushback against the same.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at [email protected] Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.

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